The 9/11 trial judge abruptly recessed the first hearing in the case since August on Monday after some of the alleged Sept. 11 plotters said they recognized a war court linguist as a former secret CIA prison worker.
Alleged plot deputy Ramzi bin al Shibh, 42, made the revelation just moments into the hearing by informing the judge he had a problem with his courtroom translator: The interpreter, he claimed, worked for the CIA during his 2002 through 2006 detention at a so-called “Black Site.”
This week’s is the first hearing for the five men accused of conspiring in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks — that killed nearly 3,00 people in New York, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania — since the public release of portions of a sweeping Senate Intelligence Committee study of the agency’s secret prisons known as “The Torture Report.”
The report gives graphic details that the U.S. government had hidden in these pretrial hearings — sexual humiliation, waterboarding and rectal rehydration. The sickliest looking of the accused conspirators, Mustafa al Hawsawi, 46, once again sat on a pillow at court.
It also says that the spy agency maintained two secret prisons at Guantánamo in 2003 and 2004 and that Bin al Shibh was held in one.
Attorney Cheryl Bormann for another alleged plotter, Walid bin Attash, 36, told the judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, that her client “was visibly shaken” at recognizing a man in the maximum-security war court from Bin Attash’s “illegal torture.”
She said it was either “the biggest coincidence ever” or “part of the pattern of the infiltration of defense teams.” Monday’s hearing was supposed to start with a presentation by a Justice Department lawyer, Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez, on FBI agents secretly questioning members of the Bin al Shibh defense team, which the Sept. 11 defense teams have called spying on privileged attorney-client conversations.
Instead the issue became, apparently, a stony-faced translator who was sitting alongside Bin al Shibh in court when the hearing started. The judge ordered a quick recess, excused Campoamor-Sanchez and summoned the chief prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, for questioning.
Court resumed briefly with the linguist missing. Martins sought, and got, a continuing recess until 9 a.m. Wednesday, to look into the issue and file a written pleading with the court. Pleadings are sealed for at least 15 days for an intelligence agencies scrub of secret information.
David Nevin, the attorney for the alleged mastermind, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, asked Pohl to order the suspected CIA worker to not leave this remote base in southeast Cuba and to submit to defense questioning.
Pohl said the man could decide whether or not to talk to the defense teams.
The five men are accused of helping to orchestrate, train, and arrange travel for the 19 men who hijacked four U.S. passenger aircraft Sept. 11. The prosecutor is seeking their execution, if they are convicted. The CIA held and interrogated them for three to four years in secret overseas prisons before they were brought to Guantánamo in September 2006.
But even once they got here, they continued to be in CIA custody, according to the Senate Report. Attorney Jay Connell for accused plotter Ammar al Baluchi, 37, said Sunday it is still not known when the agency relinquished control of the men, who are held in a secret prison called Camp 7.
The Sept. 11 prosecution has not yet completed a review of the intelligence agencies’ classification guide to update the record with the Senate report’s revelations, meaning some aspects of it may still be censored at the war court.
A court security officer, who sits to the right of the judge, has a button that mutes sound from the courtroom to the public. He did not, however, hit it once during Monday morning’s brief session that mentioned the CIA and torture.
Monday’s hearing was supposed to start an up-to 12-day straight court hearing. It was the first hearing that brought the accused terrorists to court, and family members of Sept. 11 victims to the base, since August.
Follow @CarolRosenberg on Twitter